Expanding the playoffs a bad idea

Posted Jan. 07, 2013 @ 11:06 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Roger Goodell has floated the idea of expanding the playoffs by a team or two, and we know what it means when Goodell floats something: He’s either strongly in favor of it or he’s taking public temperature of the idea.

Let’s hope it’s the latter. This concept is severely undercooked.

Did you watch the games this past weekend? The action was subpar. Both No. 6 seeds stunk up the joint for the most part. The Bengals only hung in there on the scoreboard because the Texans kicked field goal after field goal. Vikings QB Joe Webb — backup or not — looked like someone who was just plucked off the street when throwing.

It follows the pattern of recent years. The road teams were 0-4 last season, with three of the losses by at least 17 points. In 2010, we had madness — 3-of-4 road teams winning and the 7-9 home Seahawks beating the 11-5 road Saints — but the road teams that won either had equal or better records in the regular season than their hosts.

Do you really want more teams in the playoffs? For what — bragging rights?

No. We all know. It’s TV. Playoff games mean big ratings, and big ratings mean TV dollars rolling into 345 Park Avenue. And playoff games are better attended than regular-season games, so you’d have more sellouts to report to the media when we start questioning flagging attendance figures.

It’s a bad idea. Watering down the product goes against what Goodell says he wants. He has been quite proactive about investigating ways to change and better the game, but too often in this league changes are made for change’s sake, almost out of boredom. Why mess with a good thing?

If they do, it will make the NFL a bad cousin of the outdated and often-mocked bowl system. Plus, it will be another way of the league trying to muscle the NFLPA into more games, which they do not want. Not as damaging as an 18-game regular season, which fell on deaf ears and rightfully was tabled for the foreseeable future, but another annoyance in an already delicate and unsteady relationship.

Yes, wild-card teams have produced Super Bowl teams in five of the past six seasons (four champions), but it’s not as if there have been a slew of teams we believed got screwed by missing out.

The Bears? They lost five of their last eight regular-season games. It cost their coach his job.

The Giants? Lost 5-of-8 down the stretch as well. Looked nothing like a Super Bowl team again. Tom Coughlin said nothing about playoff expansion.

The Cowboys? Lost two in a row, losing control of their own fate. A living, breathing version of a bipolar team if there ever was one. Same with the Steelers and Rams and so on … the next wave of teams that were in the mix for a playoff berth this year.

If they don’t look like a playoff team, they probably are not one. It’s far from a perfect game, but the playoff system is not lacking.

Let’s hope that we stick with six in each conference.

Shanahan, Frazier handle QB decisions differently

We like to question athletes’ toughness and their intelligence. We can’t have it both ways.

Christian Ponder, like Jay Cutler back in the 2010 NFC championship game, had his manhood put on the chopping block for not playing against the Redskins. Robert Griffin III is dumb for not pulling himself from the game against the Seahawks.

It’s crazy. These guys can’t win.

Instead, let’s put it on the coaches. They’re the men paid to make tough decisions. You could have some fun at this point with a “you’re not paid to think!” line, but it’s true — otherwise, why the heck else do we have coaches getting, in Mike Shanahan’s case at least, $7 million per year?

Leslie Frazier might be among the lowest-paid head coaches in the NFL, but as a former player — one whose career ended in its prime because of a knee injury suffered in the Super Bowl, no less — he made a bold call: sitting Ponder.

And the Vikings lost. So there’s no winning.

Quarterback and coach have to have an understanding: don’t lie to me. It goes both ways, too. Honesty is the only approach. Can you maybe fudge the truth a little with a backup safety? Sure. But with the QB and head coach, they have to be straight-up honest with each other.

Backup QB Joe Webb was terrible against the Packers — there's no other way to say it — and it’s a combination of poor coaching and scouting that allowed that to happen. Although Webb played well in relief of Ponder late in the 2011 season, you could say that the Vikings should have better options than Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, whose name alone might prevent him from ever being good, as Ponder's backups.

The Vikings had all week to get Webb ready. It’s not like Ponder was hit by the team bus on game day. They had known about his elbow/triceps injury since he suffered it in the win over the Packers in Week 17.

But beyond that, Frazier did what he needed to do and Ponder was smart about his injury. He was hurt and would have struggled, most likely. Webb reportedly had a good week of practice. On the Vikes' first drive, he appeared to flummox the Packers and the drive produced three points. Then, the Vikings got away from the read-option stuff that was giving the Packers so much trouble. Why? A bad coaching decision, that’s all.

But Frazier listened to his starting quarterback about his health, trusted his instinct and sat Ponder. Had Shanahan done the same — when it was clear that Griffin was hurt and potentially doing more damage to his body — he might not be getting roasted today.

“I talked to Robert, and he said to me there was a difference between being injured and being hurt,” Shanahan said after the game. “That was enough for me.

“I thought he did enough this year to give him a chance (against the Seahawks).”

But sometimes coaches have to know when to take the decision out of the player’s hands, no matter how heroic he has been, how tough he is or how much criticism the coach might face in doing so. They’ll be happier than if he made the injury worse than it was.

“I think you do (have to take the decision out of the player’s hands). You’ve got to go with your gut,” Shanahan said. “I am not saying my gut is always right, but I went with it.”

Shanahan admitted he likely will second-guess himself. He wondered aloud if he should have taken Griffin out earlier than when his hand was basically forced to after Griffin collapsed to the turf, untouched, with 6:19 remaining in the fourth quarter. But he did feel that playing Griffin was not going to hurt him or his team. It’s as if Shanahan couldn’t get the first two drives (which resulted in touchdowns) — or much of the past seven victories — out of his head and just expected RG3 to do his thing.

The star rookie could not. We’ll find out if Shanahan’s stubbornness will cost him, the team and Griffin.

“We would not have played Robert if we thought there was risk of injuring that LCL further,” Shanahan insisted.

Most players are not like Cutler and Ponder — meaning, they are not smart. They’ll play through injury and play past the point of effectiveness, allowing pride to be their blinders. They watched Brett Favre and John Elway and others and they think that going down with the ship is the only way to go.

Coaches should just take that decision out of their hands.